Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society

Shakespeare Reading Society reference book [Ref. MS 4907]

One of the many exciting collections to be added to Archives and Collections in 2017 was the records of the Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society (MS 4907). The society began in 1880 when a group of women in Handsworth Wood decided to meet for a literary afternoon. As the name suggests, this developed in to a society for women which met regularly to read plays by Shakespeare. Membership was by personal invitation only and in 1887 rules were drawn up which specified that there should be nine meetings a year with eight of the nine meetings dedicated to reading Shakespeare plays and the ninth to work by another author.

The archive holds fascinating groups of records that tell us more about the running of the group through the years. Included are annual reports, minute books and the society’s reference book. The reference book includes a dated list of plays read and members who played the principal parts. Minute books in the archive cover the period from 1884-2001 beginning at the group’s 49th meeting and annual reports cover the period 1902-1999.

MS 4907 List of programmes in the Society’s reference book

Over the years group members carried out their own research in to the history of the group and these notes form part of the archive. They discovered that in 1903 the ladies went on, what is thought to be, their first theatre visit to the Stratford Theatre. They met at Snow Hill station, had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel and then attended a matinee showing of ‘Everyman in his Humour’ by Ben Johnson. The archive contains programmes from some later performances attended by the group.

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Behind the scenes at the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition: How to make your very own book cradle- An instructable!

As part of the preparation for the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition book cradles were especially made for a selection of volumes exhibited. This was done to make sure that the books that were displayed were fully supported and not to put undue strain on the open volumes and bindings. Improper display and handling of books can cause irreparable damage! To avoid causing damage to the open volumes each book has a cradle especially made to fit each individual book on the specific page it is opened on!

How to make your very own book cradle

1. Decide what page you want to display your book on.

2. Using a large sheet of paper (bigger than your book!) draw a horizontal line towards the bottom of your sheet of paper.

3. Open your book up to the appropriate page. Stand your book up on your piece of paper with the spine on the horizontal line.

4. Mark on the paper the edges of the boards and the spine.

5. Like dot to dot join up your marks!

6. Measure the lines you have drawn.


7. Pick up your card, mark one end of it to indicate the starting point. Starting a couple of cm along the baseline from the bottom left hand corner, mark on the strip all the points where the line changes direction.

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Birmingham Heritage Week – A Retrospective

The Wolfson Centre returned to normal this morning after hosting not one but TWO pop-up exhibitions in the last three days!

Shakespeare First Folio - on display in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday (under strict supervision by our Conservator!)

Shakespeare First Folio – on display in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday (under strict supervision by our Conservator!)

Saturday was another success for our re-run of the Shakespeare: Infinite Varieties exhibition, which included some fabulous items that were previously on show in the gallery as part of Our Shakespeare. Also on display was the First Folio, giving visitors the chance to get up close (but not touch!) this fantastic volume. Believe it or not, the book that drew even more attention was this one:

German Shakespeareans [132093]

German Shakespeareans

It was given to the Library by  Professor Frederik Augustus Leo in 1878 who had clearly appreciated the help he had received when studying! You can access a digital copy online via the Shakespeare Album website.

Last night was the launch of the Children at War project by the Friends of Archives & Heritage. Visitors were again treated to a wonderful exhibition giving a  rich and varied snapshot of the experience of the child during the First World War. This was only the beginning of the project and they would love to hear from people who would like to volunteer and get involved. For details of the project, please visit their website and get in touch through their Contact page!

A great turn out for the Children at War launch event.

Nicola Crews

Shakespeare: Infinite Variety in Birmingham’s Archive & Collections. A pop-up exhibition for Birmingham Heritage Week!

Back by popular demand for Birmingham Heritage Week 2016 and as part of the Library of Birmingham’s programme of events to mark 400 years of Shakespeare, Birmingham Archives & Collections is hosting a pop-up exhibition on Saturday 10th September (1-4pm) to showcase some of the diverse and surprising items you can expect to find that “relate” to Shakespeare held in the Library’s collections! Themes include:

  • What’s in a name… the Birmingham Shakespeares… (yes there are lots!)


  • Shakespeare’s “Beauties”


  • Miniature Shakespeare


  • Reading Shakespeare … and more!


Staff and our invaluable pop-up volunteers will be on hand to talk to you about the items on display, and you might get to spell your name out in Shakespearean letters…


And… if you missed the ‘Our Shakespeare’ exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, you will be able to see some of the highlights close up! Come along and see what we choose…!


Venue and details : 10th September 2016, 1-4pm in the Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham. Free event. No Booking required.


Shakespeare’s journey to Birmingham

Everybody knows that the library holds a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. [You didn’t know?! Well then, you should check out the Shakespeare exhibition on level 3.] But how did it come to be in the possession of the library?  To find out the provenance of this important work, I donned my deerstalker and pipe (unlit) to carry out a bit of detective work using the archival records of the Library Committee of the City Council.

The first step was to find out when the first folio came in to the library’s possession.  Each and every item that came into the library from 1879 onwards was given an accession number sequentially from 1 onwards.  The first folio has the accession number 35470.  Knowing this, I was able to check the Location Books (the closest thing we have to accession registers as the actual registers for this period are not extant).  This tells us that the volume came in around 1881.

Armed with this knowledge, I went to the records of the Free Libraries Committee (reference: BCC/1/AT/1/1/5) held in the Archives and Collections stores knowing that I was looking for a minute referring to the first folio somewhere in 1881.

Minutes of the Library Commitee 1881 [BCC/1/AT]

Minutes of the Free Libraries Committee 1881

And there we have it: the Libraries Committee reported on the 7th of December 1881 that the first folio (and, intriguingly, third folio) were bought together for £310 by a resolution of the Management Committee.   To put this into some context, the chief librarian’s salary at that time was £3 a week [cf. BCC/1/AT/1/1/5, minute 4634].  But where were they purchased?  To dig deeper we go to the minutes of the Management Committee (BCC/1/AT/3/1/1).  Sure enough, the minutes for the 29th of September 1881 tell us:

Minutes of the Management Committee [BCC/1/AT/3/1/1]

Minutes of the Management Committee

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Humbly, sir, I thank you.


Here at the Iron Room, we are very happy to report that our pop -up exhibition to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the opening of our new gallery exhibition was a huge success! 

Over 100 people came up to see us in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday to see some of the delightful (and unusual) references to the name Shakespeare across our collections. We were very honoured to have William Shakespeare himself stop by to say hello and listen to a bit of 20th century Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare - searching for ancestors in the Guild Book of Knowle

William Shakespeare – searching for ancestors in the Guild Book of Knowle


Old meets new. Listening to a radio ballad of Romeo and Juliet from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]

Old meets new. Listening to a radio ballad of Romeo and Juliet from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]

Thank you to everyone who came, it was a fantastic day!

If you missed our pop-up exhibition, you can catch up online through the Birmingham Images website.  A brand new exhibition Our Shakespeare in conjunction with the British Library is now open in the gallery on level 3 and runs until September. Admission is free so why not come along!

It’s almost here!

Our Shakespeare

To mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, the Library of Birmingham will be hosting a family day of activities this Saturday, 23rd April.

A brand new exhibition Our Shakesepeare,  presented in partnership with the British Librarywill be opening on Friday, 22nd April, in the gallery on level 3 of the Library of Birmingham. The exhibition will be running until September and as part of the launch, there will be a range of activities in the Library on Saturday, including our own pop-up exhibition in the Wolfson Centre on level 4.

You can download the Our Shakespeare Family Day leaflet for details of events across the library.

“A hundred thousand welcomes!”